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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


The following story appeared in Monday’s edition of Paulick Report. Minor editing was done for ease of reading and context. No editing was done to the content, it appears as written by Publisher Ray Paulick

By Ray Paulick, Dec. 18, 2023 — Dean Reeves, whose Brick Ambush was disqualified from second and placed last in Saturday’s $500,000 New York Stallion Series Stakes/Great White Way division at Aqueduct racetrack, was denied an appeal of the controversial stewards decision by the New York State Gaming Commission on Monday, and still doesn’t know what his horse did to warrant a disqualification.

Image taken from NYRA patrol film of the incident at the quarter pole in Saturday’s New York Stallion Series Stakes/Great White Way division

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“I keep waiting for them to show the video evidence.”

Drew Mollica, who filed the appeal on behalf of Reeves, said the decision to not conduct a hearing on the matter “speaks volumes about what is wrong with New York racing.”

The disqualification of Brick Ambush left many in racing scratching their heads.

“It’s really a little bit baffling how this whole thing panned out, played out and was adjudicated,” said retired jockey Richard Migliore, an analyst on NYRA’s Fox Sports telecast.

The race was won by Antonio of Venice, ridden by Manny Franco, who according to the Equibase chart footnotes “was blocked nearing the quarter pole, came out and bumped with a rival” while racing behind the front-runner, Heavyweight Champs, at the top of the stretch. The horse Antonio of Venice bumped was The Big Torpedo, whose rider, Javier Castellano, had to check hard. Solo’s Fury, to the outside of the The Big Torpedo also was bumped in the chain reaction and wound up being eased.

Brick Ambush, according to the Equibase chart, was making a four wide bid at that stage “while being bumped in the hind end.”

The stewards lit the inquiry sign and the only number flashing on the board was that of the winner, Antonio of Venice. Castellano said he lodged a claim of foul, but it apparently was not relayed to the stewards.

Migliore, on the Fox Sports telecast, said Brick Ambush was not the one responsible for the bumping. “The horse from the inside (Antonio of Venice) came out…and I feel created the problem.”

Migliore added, “I have a hard time understanding the decision process.”

So do a lot of others.

Reeves said he’s received a steady stream of emails, text messages, and telephone calls about the DQ. “It hasn’t stopped,” he said. “People I don’t even know are contacting me. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen this much response from the racing community on a single disqualification. I’ve yet to see one person say, ‘Maybe your horse did cause it.’”

At least one person, New York State Gaming Commission steward Braulio Baeza Jr., did see it that way. He told Daily Racing Form’s David Grening “the outside horse (Brick Ambush) caused the pressure.”

On Monday, the following statement was posted on the New York Racing Association website in the section explaining stewards decisions: “At the ¼ pole #12 Brick Ambush (Junior Alvarado) came in, causing a chain reaction. The #11 Solo’s Fury (Jose Lezcano) pushes down into the #7 The Big Torpedo (Javier Castellano). After reviewing the video and speaking with the riders, the stewards disqualified the #12 Brick Ambush for interference and place him behind the #11 Solo’s Fury.”

The explanation does not mention Antonio of Venice, whose number was blinking during the lengthy inquiry as stewards reviewed video of the incident.

On Sunday, adding salt to the wound, Alvarado, Brick Ambush’s jockey, was given a three-day suspension by NYSGC steward Baeza, who wields more power than the stewards from the New York Racing Association and The Jockey Club.

“In New York, the only steward who can act is the state steward, Mr. Baeza,” said Mollica. “The other two stewards are merely advisory.”

The connections of The Big Torpedo also filed an appeal, which was denied by the NYSGC.

On Monday, the NYSGC issued the following statement:

“On December 17, 2023, the New York State Gaming Commission received correspondence from the connections of two horses that participated in the 9th race at Aqueduct Race Course on December 16, 2023. Specifically, the connections and/or their representatives sought to appeal the stewards’ disqualification of the horse Brick Ambush and the stewards’ declination to find interference by the horse Antonio of Venice. The correspondence collectively states disagreement with the decision of the stewards.

“The Commission responded to the connections today, advising them that the decisions to disqualify Brick Ambush and to not find interference by Antonio of Venice were judgment calls “based on questions of fact, which the stewards are empowered to make pursuant to Commission Rule 4039.20 (9 NYCRR §4039.20), and the decision(s) (are) therefore not appealable to the Commission, pursuant to Rule 4039.5. New York Courts have long held that stewards’ placement decisions are questions of fact that cannot be appealed. See, e.g., In the Matter of the Seventh Race of June 12, 1996 at Belmont Park [May I Inquire] (NYSRWB 1996), confirmed, Matter of Moshera v. Bilinski, 244 A.D.2d 555 (2d Dep’t 1995); see also Discenza v. N.Y. Racing Ass’n, 134 Misc. 2d 3, 7-8 (N.Y. Civ. Ct. 1986); Shapiro v. Queens County Jockey Club, 184 Misc. 295, 300 (N.Y. Mun. Ct. 1945). For these reasons, the stewards’ decision is final and the New York State Gaming Commission cannot consider your appeal.”

Mollica said the agency regulating New York racing has allowed previous appeals on stewards decisions.

“They are like ostriches,” Mollica said. “They want to stick their head in the sand like it didn’t happen. Their argument is, ‘We can do what we want because we can do what we want.’ How can they not want to have an official review?”

The disqualification cost Reeves nearly $100,000 in lost purse money for second place. If Antonio of Venice had been disqualified instead of Brick Ambush, Reeves would have received $275,000 in first-place money.

Reeves said he hopes NYRA CEO David O’Rourke will take the matter seriously.

“I’m really disappointed New York racing, NYRA, would have incompetency at the stewards level for the type of racing they want to have,” Reeves said. “If I was David O’Rourke, I would at least go in to the stewards and have them show me on the film how that call was justified.

“I keep waiting for them to show the video evidence, to say, ‘Here’s the pictures.’ I don’t think they will because they can’t – it’s not there, so we get no explanation.”

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